Decoupling the influence of leaf and root hydraulic conductances on stomatal conductance and its sensitivity to vapour pressure deficit as soil dries in a drained loblolly pine plantation
The study examined the relationships between whole tree hydraulic conductance (Ktree) and the conductance in roots (Kroot) and leaves (Kleaf) in loblolly pine trees. In addition, the role of seasonal variations in Kroot and Kleaf in mediating stomatal control of transpiration and its response to vapour pressure deficit (D) as soil-dried was studied. Compared to trunk and branches, roots and leaves had the highest loss of conductivity and contributed to more than 75% of the total tree hydraulic resistance. Drought altered the partitioning of the resistance between roots and leaves. As soil moisture dropped below 50%, relative extractable water (REW), Kroot declined faster than Kleaf. Although Ktree depended on soil moisture, its dynamics was tempered by the elongation of current-year needles that significantly increased Kleaf when REW was below 50%.After accounting for the effect of D on gs, the seasonal decline in Ktree caused a 35% decrease in gs and in its sensitivity to D, responses that were mainly driven by Kleaf under high REW and by Kroot under low REW.We conclude that not only water stress but also leaf phenology affects the coordination between Ktree and gs and the acclimation of trees to changing environmental conditions.